SHANGHAI — Ford has appointed Jason Luo, head of auto parts maker Key Safety Systems, to run its China operations, a move seen as signaling its resolve to revive sales in the world's biggest car market.
The U.S. automaker hopes Luo, the first executive from mainland China to hold its top job there, will reprise his work at KSS, where he engineered a significant surge in China revenue.
Ford's overall China sales were down 7 percent in the first half of the year, worse than the industry average of a 3.8 percent climb.
Foreign automakers in China are battling fierce competition from a swathe of local rivals, who are aggressively launching new models to grab market share. The market is also skewed by heavy government support for electric vehicles, prompting Ford to seek partners and expand local production.
The U.S. automaker has announced it may set up a joint venture with Anhui Zotye Automobile Co. to build electric passenger vehicles in China under a new brand.
Its Lincoln luxury unit also recently said it would start producing luxury SUVs in the country by 2019, and Ford is moving some production of its Focus small car to China.
Luo, who has spent the last decade at the helm of Michigan-based KSS, also has wide experience in mergers and acquisitions — overseeing its $920 million sale to China's Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp and the $1.6 billion purchase of the healthier assets of bankrupt Japanese airbag maker Takata Corp this year.
"He's got the experience of elevating KSS into a global company, and Ford wants to further localize, so it's not a surprise to see him come over," said Xing Lei, chief editor at China Automotive Review.
Luo has a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Beijing Institute of Technology, China and master degrees from U.S. universities.
The appointment will be effective Sept. 1.
He takes the reins from Peter Fleet, who has since July held both the China job as well as his current role of group vice president and president of Ford Asia Pacific.
Reporting by Brenda Goh.